Sharing my story is important because as adoptees we often feel like we don't belong, we feel alone and misunderstood, but we have such a strong and beautiful community, we are not alone, we have each other. Furthermore, my story is love and boy do we need more of that in the world.
I was born in Maceió, a coastal city in Northeastern Brazil. I was the third child of a poor family. Gilvania, my biological mother, was not financially able to care for me, and opted for international adoption after Jose, a social worker, introduced her to the idea. He reassured her by telling her he knew this great family in Canada that had adopted in Brazil twice already. Jose had met my adoptive family a few years prior when he was forced to seek asylum in Canada as a political refugee. Wanting to learn French, Jose had chosen University Laval in Quebec City where both my parents were studying at the time. They became close friends and through conversations my parents expressed their desire to adopt some day. Fast forward to 1987, my parents were getting ready to adopt their third child, they had adopted twice with Jose’s help and thought they would switch things up for their third one and were considering Bolivia. A phone call from Jose changed everything, he called my parents to tell them about this woman he had just met Gilvania, she was pregnant and had decided that adoption was the best course of action for her unborn daughter. My parents agreed and started the process.
Several months later, at four months old, I was landing at Quebec City Airport with my new dad and a new family waiting at the gates to greet me. In the course of one flight, everything was different, I left a family behind, a way of life, a culture, a language, and simultaneously I gained all of that back differently. Let me just say that I applaud my parents, raising four adopted kids is no easy task (they adopted one more after me).
The first years were really difficult, not all of us got along and we all had our set of challenges along with very explosive personalities. Four adopted kids in one household is a lot, emotions were flying high, and there was a lot of anger from all the unanswered questions we had in regards to our unknown pasts combined with not having the right words and tools to express how we felt.
Building a strong identity and having a strong sense of self is what I found most challenging growing up, especially as a young adult. I overcame that by traveling around the world by myself, there's no better way to know the person that you are than by leaving with a suitcase to some foreign places with only yourself to rely on. I am proud of the woman I built myself to be. I still have my moments, mostly when it comes to intimate relationships, I have an ingrained fear of being abandoned and I am continuously working on that. Little by little, I am letting people in closer.
When I was 19 years old, I traveled back to Brazil with my adoptive mom and one of my brothers. It was my first time back as an adult and it felt surreal to be there, everything from the smells, the taste of the food, the sights seemed familiar. I felt like I was at home, yet I was treated like a foreigner and that was painful at times. At that point in my life, I had already made peace with the fact that I would never get to meet my birth family. Well it turns out that I was wrong. On this trip, I was able to meet them. I still don't have the words to describe how it felt. It felt like a dream, I had to pinch myself to realize it was really happening. I first met a cousin and an aunt who gave us my mother's address, and there we went, knocking on her door unannounced. She wasn't home, so we called her and explained to her who we were and she just said "Don't move, I'm on my way". The next day, she organized this huge BBQ Brazilian style called “churrascaria”. There, I got to meet everyone except for my father. To this day, I am still in touch with them, we talk on occasions, it's amazing aside from the language barrier, it can get difficult, but I am currently learning Portuguese.
My present relationship with my adoptive parents is great, but it wasn't always like that. The older I get, the more I appreciate them and the more I realize that human beings like them don't come around that often. They are the most selfless people I know and also the strongest, most resilient. They passed onto me amazing values, and taught me the true meaning of unconditional love.
Overall, adoption has impacted my life in many ways, some good, some bad. I feel like because of the way my parents raised me, I was able to define the woman I am becoming on my own terms. Adoption made my identity stronger, because I worked for it, literally. I had to build my identity pretty much from scratch. Since I never really had strong roots and never identified to a specific group or culture, I was able to create my own and identify to a broader group, human beings. With that being said, I always felt a sense of duality inside of me, and at times feeling like I didn't belong was hard.
In the future, I hope to live under the sun, happy and at peace. I want to be creating and contributing to making this world a more loving and positive place.
As adoptees, our stories begin in another land -- they begin with immigration. Our stories may be different from that of most immigrants, but as immigrants, we share the strength and resilience that are necessary to uproot ourselves and begin a new life in a foreign land not of our choosing.
I was born in CheChon, South Korea. I have a biological brother who is a year and a half younger than me. We were both placed in an orphanage in the city that we were born in. I don't know who my birth parents are. I am currently in the process of finding out more about my adoption story and about my birth parents.
My adoptive mom couldn't have kids of her own because she had ovarian cancer. She always wanted children so both her and my dad made the decision to adopt. They went through Holt International for their adoption process. One night at dinner, they received a phone call from their case manager that they had a brother and sister that they wanted to place in a home and asked if my parents would be interested in adopting a brother and sister that they wanted to keep together. Before, my parents could say yes, they talked about it while keeping the case manager on the phone. They agreed to adopt both of us without any hesitation.
I was adopted on April 7, 1988. I was five when I was adopted. The first year, I had to learn a new language and acclimate to my new surroundings and to my new family. I was too young to comprehend that I was being adopted. I was told by my mom how scared I was when I first met my new family. I didn't talk. They were surprised because they were told that I was outgoing and talkative but that first initial meeting I was shy and apprehensive. My mom also told me how that first night in my new home how I cried going to sleep.
My family made sure that both my brother and I adapted very well and made sure that we were being taken care of mentally, emotionally and physically. I don't recollect any prior knowledge of my adoptive family. My parents did receive pictures of both my brother and I along with medical information and our background as to why we were placed in the orphanage along with other information about both my brother and I. My relationship with my adoptive parents growing up has always been a good one. They have supported me in everything that I have ever done.
As I grew older, I began to struggle with my identity. I've always known that I was adopted and a person of color. That was something I struggled with. I would communicate to my parents how I was dealing with these things and they listened and it was hard on them as well that I was going through this period of questioning who I was. My dad past away when I was 25 from cancer. My mom and I had a rough patch after he died but now we have reconciled and she has been the one constant person who has been there for me during my struggles of anxiety and depression and living a life of sobriety.
Adoption has made me see the world differently and how I love people. As an adoptee, I feel that I am more of an inclusive person and more accepting of others because of my parents and how they opened their home to both my brother and I without any hesitations.
Besides adapting to my new surroundings, the one challenge I had to overcome and still work through is fear of abandonment. Even though I love people, I am always worrying about being abandoned and left behind. I am grateful for my small group of friends who help me through this. Fear of abandonment is one of the causes for my anxiety. I get anxious when I feel that I am not heard but more so when I am alone for long periods of time. I allow myself to spin in circles by questioning myself about whether my actions were right or wrong or whether I did or did not do enough, or whether I said something wrong or not.
For a long time, I have allowed fear and my anxiety to hold me back from achieving my purpose that God has planned out for my life. The one area I am proud of is my heart of hospitality and willingness to serve people and meet them where they are at in their lives.
My biggest dream is to own a house and open my home to a family/individuals in the refugee community and live life with them. For most of my life, I have had a desire to go into ministry and living life on a daily basis with people in the refugee community is where I am called to serve. This year, I have enrolled in a discipleship training class to help jump start and fulfill my dream. My other dream is to write a book one day. However, my two biggest goals this year, are to visit Korea and to get my ESL teaching certification.
As adoptees, society forgets that we are immigrants as well and our stories often are forgotten and untold. As an Asian-American, I've become more aware of who I am and how I fit into the immigration story. There is a lot of pain in my immigration story. Yes, I am someone's daughter but I am still treated as an “other” by society. I am still being marginalized. My voice isn't often heard. My face is often not seen. I am in this constant tug-of-war between where I am from, who I am as an Asian-American woman, and how I belong. Being torn from our roots is something that all adoptees experience. We have a need to seek the truth about where we're from even though it may be impossible to do so. I hope to find my birth parents and I hope that they were both okay.
My name is Sarah, and I was born in China. After being adopted by an American family, I spent my childhood growing up on a small farm in Georgia. My family consisted of my father, mother, and a younger sister who was also adopted from China. My parents were loving, endlessly patient, and raised us in a Christian home.
During my time in China, I was only in one orphanage. I was placed there several days after birth until I was adopted at fourteen months old. As a baby, I had no say in whether I wanted to be adopted or not. However, as an adult, I can now confidently say that the answer is a firm yes. I am incredibly grateful for the gift of adoption.
The first few years of my life were relatively good. My parents did their best and taught us about Christ. As adoptees, my sister and I naturally had our own share of struggles with understanding the loss of birth parents, differences in appearances, adoption, and forming attachments.
Adoption can be accompanied by a variety of challenges. Some of the issues I have faced included racism since I lived in an area that had little to no diversity. Being Chinese in a predominantly Caucasian area was obvious and drew a lot of unwanted attention. Outings as a family would sometimes bring questions from strangers that were genuine, but often these questions were insensitive and bordering on offensive.
In most ways, I had an identical upbringing to my classmates, but because of my appearance, I was still met with rude questions, racist jokes, and stereotyping.
Over the years, I have learned to appreciate and be proud of my heritage. I used to pretend that the Chinese part of who I am didn't exist and didn't need to be acknowledged. Now as an adult, I feel seasoned in the questions people ask me and the responses they are looking for me to give. Before it would have been a situation I'd try to get out of, or I'd leave feeling embarrassed. Now I enjoy it because it gives me an opportunity to share not only about my life but also about the need for orphan care and adoption.
Another challenge for me has been relationships and attachment issues. While these issues are not strictly things that adoptees face, past trauma can certainly influence future relationships. My own personality tendencies were quiet, reserved, and serious. Many peers only showed interest in me long enough to get their questions about me answered, and then the fragile friendship was over.
I struggled with trusting people and was always assuming the worst of them. I became an extremely cautious person and careful with my relationships. While growing up, I never had a large pool of friends, and I typically stuck to a small group who had proved their loyalty over the years.
This behavior did not teach me how to build relationships well or healthily. I was terrified of being hurt and taken advantage of, so I would repeatedly form very strong but one-sided friendships. I would get to know my friends thoroughly, but I would only let them know me on a very superficial level. It was always enough for them to feel like they knew me but only enough that if something happened, I could withdraw and not have risked too much of myself.
I was always balancing being on opposite ends of the spectrum. I was either detached and indifferent, or I was constantly anxious about trying to control my life and my friendships. This way of life led to years of me bottling up emotions, not being an effective communicator, and going through periods where internal buildup would erupt into angry outbursts.
These are just a couple of overarching struggles I have faced throughout my life. Adoption may come with many more than just those.
My answer to finding healing in the hardships and the difficulties was and will always be Jesus. His work in my life, He has shown me the depravity and brokenness of our world. We live in a fallen world where human relationships do not function in the way they were created to be lived out. The good news is that He does not leave us in that state, and God's plan was always adoption.
One of the biggest things I wish I had known growing up is the relationship between spiritual adoption and earthly adoption.
It wasn't until my second year of college that I heard a sermon on spiritual adoption and suddenly everything began to click. I had never viewed other Christ-followers as individuals who were also adopted. The Bible says those who are believers are now sons and co-heirs with Christ through our adoption. This was information that completely transformed how I thought about orphans and adoption. This was why adoption is even important in the first place because God has adopted His children and asks that we do likewise. Adoption is an inseparable part of the Gospel.
Through the saving work of Christ on the cross, I have experienced true and purposeful love and restoration. No amount of kind words, condolences, or counseling could fix what I had been through (or whatever pain anyone has been through). The reality is that some of these things will not be repaired in full until Christ returns and sets all wrongs right.
This is why I have hope. My relationships, friendships, communication, and living, in general, has never flourished in the way it is now. I know that the Lord keeps those whom He saves, and He will keep shaping me daily. I have joy knowing that even if I don't see all of these things fully restored in this life, He will do what He has promised to do for His children who wait and long for redemption.
I think sharing my story is so important because the Lord has allowed me to heal from a lot of the effects of my past. After years of processing, introspection, and being loved with Christ's love, I’m finally at the point of being able to tell my story in a way that is honest yet uplifting. When I was younger I think I would have benefited if I had read more things, met more people, and felt more understood as an adoptee.
There's power in being able to use our pasts for the preservation of people and the ability to say, "I understand. I have a story, too. But don’t give up because there is always, always hope."
My early memories of life are pretty unknown, however, I was born in South Portland, Maine, and adopted into a family of white parents, white grandparents, and a large extended family all from Maine. I do not have a relationship with my birth mom, although she has always been someone mentioned throughout my life. And I never really had much memory of my birth father because my twin sister and I were adopted the moments after we were born.
An ongoing challenge has been constantly wondering where I came from. I think it is awesome to be able to have pride in where you’re from and understand the cultural norms of countries you represent, but for me, that is still a mystery. My birth mom is white, yet my skin is a mixed complexion. There is no way to overcome this without getting closure on the issue.
In the meantime, I have found my identity in Christ. Besides being born into this world and into an unknown story, I am known by Christ, and I am known as His. That truth helps me cope and guides me daily. The relationship I have with Him reminds me that I was uniquely made for His purpose. Despite not having a clear answer to this particular challenge yet, I know practicing patience is also part of the journey of life.
I had other challenges, of course. I wished that adoption and the process of it was more weaved into my life, vs hearing about it sporadically. Or I wish I were not the only one, a part from my twin in our peer groups that knew about adoptions. I wish adoption conversations were normal, more frequent and not only about animals. It becomes tiresome reading about the good white couples (the “savior” complex) that adopt children of different races and or from other countries. Being a transracial adoptee is not always fun when the white majority all around you does not understand the complexities of race in America.
Being adopted is all I know; growing up, I was well cared for and loved. I think I will always have questions, however, I mostly always feet grateful to my birth mom for placing us for adoption.
As the story goes, "Your birth mom had other kids, she could not afford more children," and I am appreciative of the choice she made. I believe my life was changed from a possible single mother household to a married family home. I was given opportunities many children of color do not often come into contact with due to my experience with white parents. Traveling the world, access, and opportunity to name a few things. They are still my immediate family and the family I see when I go home, however, being married to my husband, I also get to create a family in a new way.
I’m proud of being able to make others feel connected through the mutual connection of adoption. I’ve had some dreams to put into action, but risk-taking has been super hard for me. I have dreams of putting youth of color on planes, traveling to Malawi, and other places that have changed my life.
I’ve learned that adoption is something people feel awkward or uneasy asking about. As a transracial adoptee, telling a family story or posting a family photo, it is super obvious. The story of so many children, youth, and adult adoptees, however, is not as obvious. The challenges, the discomfort, the journey, and the joys are not often talked about. Sadly, our stories are ignored in the media and film, and people still feel awkward asking about adoption.
My story is important to bridge the gap, so many others who have a story can speak openly, and non-awkwardly about it.
Our life experiences should not be taboo, and the more we can share, the more others can be - and will be - educated.
I was born in Henderson, Nevada in 1965. My mother had five older boys in foster care when she became pregnant with me, and she felt she had no choice but to relinquish me to adoption. I was placed with a family at birth through Catholic Social Services (now Catholic Charities) but was removed at about seven months old due to neglect.
About that time, when I was eight months of age, my adoptive mother called Catholic Social Services and requested another baby. They had a boy who they adopted prior to me. My adoptive family consisted of a mom, dad, older brother and about eight dogs on the day I arrived.
Due to the neglect of the first family, when I came to my parents, my head was flat in the back, I could not sit up unassisted and I could not self-feed or self-soothe. While I don't remember this, there are some somatic memories I experience. I had a new life, new family, and I didn’t know
where I came from or where I was for the first eight months of my life.
I grew up in a mostly blue-collar neighborhood full of trees and kids. My mother was a teacher and my father worked for the local power company. My parents had relatives and friends who had adopted children, so that felt pretty normal to me as I was around them often. My parents are still alive and, as an adult, I take care of them now.
My adoptive family was always supportive and cared for me. My worst memory of adoption is being told that, “You could be sent back,” by someone in my family if I didn't “behave and act right.” This was ALWAYS a fear of mine until I was a teenager. I learned to be quiet and to be
good. My older brother was often in trouble, so I learned it was better to toe the line, mind my Ps and Qs and just do what I was told. Knowing that I had the first mother somewhere, and feeling she was part of me has been one of the best memories. I always wished I could know what my first mother was like.
I ended up meeting her on February 1, 2017, via telephone. She did not remember where I was born or when. I had to remind her. She had ten children, and she said, “You were the one I had to forget about, so I need help remembering.” This was devastating for me to hear. I met her face-to-face on September 20, 2017, in her tiny apartment. She had invited me there after a long period
of initial rejection as she had been very ill and knew she would die. But she wanted to meet me and for me to meet her before she passed. She died May 20, 2018. My birth father is still alive but denies I am his even though DNA says differently.
I had to overcome feeling like I would never have enough food as I was malnourished at first. I would hide food, overeat, and worry about food often in my childhood. This is something I still struggle with. I had other childhood traumas, too, that I worked on in therapy, and I later became a therapist to help children. Now I work with children in foster care. Service is healing.
I am proud that I have OVERCOME so much, made a life for myself, and that I get to serve others. My goals this year are to be able to speak at conferences to other adoptees, to teach and speak at conferences for therapists to help them understand the adoptee perspective, hold support groups, and to be part of a community of adoptees working to heal. I hope to be able to become a
support to many.
Ten years from now, I want to be doing all of the above and more. I want to have a private practice that focuses on play therapy. I want to travel, to love, to have deeper connections with other adoptees, and to provide space for those who are hurting. Time is the only thing holding me
back as I work on finalizing many projects, training, and writing. Just getting started!
Sometimes, fear of rejection holds me back - my own self-consciousness and my own worries.
For me, it is important to share my story as I am not alone, and many others feel they are alone.
I want to be part of a movement of healing for the adoptee community.
Adoption is not a once-off transaction, an isolated event. It is a multi-faceted, multi-layered, lifelong journey. And by sharing our stories, our lived experiences, our truths – through books, and blogs, and wonderful initiatives like this ‘Stand Up & Speak Up’ campaign – I hope we are able to bring an end to the suffering of all those burdened by so many unnecessary secrets, and stigma, and shame.
You are not alone. There is help out there. And hope for healing.
I was relinquished as a newborn in 1974, under the highly secretive closed adoption system, which was a common practice for young, unwed mothers in South Africa at the time.
My adoptive parents were given no identifying details about my birth parents, and vice-versa.
My name was changed completely, and I was only allowed to access my file containing my birth parents’ names when I reached the age of majority (18 with my adoptive parents’ written permission, 21 without their permission).
My birth parents were never allowed to initiate contact.
Growing up, I always knew I was adopted. My parents introduced me to the concept from a very young age.
Although extended family and close friends all knew my younger brother and I were adopted (different biological parents), it wasn’t exactly something I went around advertising.
Unlike transracial adoptees that can’t hide the fact that they are not biologically related to their parents, I tried my best to keep my adoptee status a secret.
Kids are cruel, and I knew if they found out, I’d be a bully’s easy target.
I played my cards close to my chest until I was in my mid-to-late teens when I had grown a thick enough skin to deal with the kind of insensitive adoption ‘jokes’ and ignorant comments that are bandied about in everyday conversation, and sometimes even directed straight at adoptees.
For the most part, I had a happy, carefree childhood, but things changed quite dramatically when I was fourteen and my best friend’s mom committed suicide. It triggered in me a sense of urgency to find my birth mother before it was too late, and the answers to my burning questions were taken to the grave.
Knowing virtually nothing about my biological roots resulted in a crippling identity crisis during adolescence, manifesting in all forms of anti-social and self-destructive behavior, and ultimately a deeply dysfunctional relationship with my adoptive parents.
Although they tried to hide it, I knew they felt extremely threatened by the idea of me reuniting with my birth parents. I believe the fear of rejection runs through every thread of the adoption tapestry.
Deep down, everyone in the triad has a fear of it.
For adoptive parents, it is the fear of being replaced by their child’s birth parents.
For birth mothers, it is the fear of being rejected by their child – as punishment, for abandoning them, and not being able to provide for them like a parent should. And for adoptees, it is the fear of their birth mother not wanting to meet them, of being rejected by her a second time.
When I turned 21, I was granted access to my file at the welfare society, which had facilitated the adoption, and I met my birth mother shortly thereafter.
Looking into the face of the woman who had carried me for nine months and brought me into this world was an incredibly emotional and life-changing experience.
I met my birth father three years later. Most people say I am the spitting image of her, but I also see a resemblance to him. Talent and temperament wise, I am a blend of both.
Discovering more about my biological roots, the circumstances surrounding my relinquishment, and finding out I had three half-siblings gave me closure. I felt a wonderful sense of inner calm and peace. All those questions I had carried around inside me for so long were answered, the aching hole in my soul was filled. I felt liberated, and I began to heal.
I broke the news to my adoptive mother about my reunion with my birth mother two months after my first face-to-face meeting with the latter. It was a VERY awkward conversation. It felt like confessing to having an affair, telling a jilted lover about the ‘other woman’ in my life.
My adoptive parents only met my birth mother 15 years later, and my birth father the following year – both meetings at my request. I was tired of leading a double life.
In 2016, I released Umbilicus, an autobiographical novel focussing on my journey as an adoptee. For me, my belly button was the last point of contact with my birth mother, and growing up I always felt a spiritual connection to her, so the word umbilicus just fitted the ‘tie that binds’ thread of my work so perfectly. The main theme of the story is the search for identity. There is also a strong underlying theme of redemption.
Although my story deals with what is officially termed a closed, domestic, same-race adoption, and I do not claim to speak on behalf of all individuals adopted under this system, I do know that many of our unique challenges growing up as adoptees are universal.
I believe it is my duty, my calling, to be a voice for the voiceless.
To paint an accurate portrait of the challenges faced by many adopted kids the world over, particularly during the teen years, as we all strive to acquire a sense of self and forge our own identity.
To fast-forward a few years beyond the adoption agency’s picture-postcard image of a happy mom cuddling a chubby baby, and relay with authenticity and objectivity the raw dynamics between parents and teenagers in a not atypical adoption triad.
Like Frederick Douglass so wisely wrote: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” And having personally run the gauntlet over the past four decades, I hope to pass on what I have learned to adoptees, parents, and professionals working in the field so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
I was recently invited to sit on a four-author panel discussion, at one of our country’s most significant literary festivals. It was facilitated by an acclaimed cultural commentator, and was called 'Cut Off at the Roots'. We spoke about some of the many challenges faced by adopted and emigrant children when trying to build a sense of identity, and probed the concept of truly knowing who we are if we don’t know where we came from.
I am a firm proponent of open adoption. I believe it should be a basic civil and human right for every single adoptee to have access to their original birth certificate and adoption file whenever they feel ready. I encourage all adoptive parents and social workers to build life books for/with the adopted child. And I strongly advise all adoptive parents to seek out a professional for their child to speak to. Someone who specializes in dealing with adoptees, and the unique psychological and emotional challenges we face. Someone with a strong grasp of pre- and perinatal psychology, and how it relates to ensuing problems with attachment, bonding, and abandonment issues – as uniquely experienced by adoptees. Someone with proper training in treating the trauma associated with the primal wound, the ghost-kingdom, genealogical bewilderment, mirror loss, and identity issues – again, as uniquely experienced by adoptees. Unfortunately, normal family psychologists and school counselors and clergymen are not qualified to deal with these adoption-specific issues.
My advice to fellow adoptees who are considering, or have already embarked on the search and reunion process, just remember that ‘making contact’ with your birth mother (and/or other members of your biological family) doesn’t have to involve a face-to-face meeting. Perhaps you and/or your birth mother will only be comfortable exchanging info and photos via email initially. Maybe after a while, you’ll be open to chatting on the phone or via Skype. And eventually, you may be prepared to meet in person. Don’t rush it. Give each other the time and space needed to digest information and process feelings. Allow things to unfold and evolve organically. Set healthy boundaries. There will be ups, there will be downs. But ultimately you, the adoptee, will have a far better sense of who you are, and your place in this world. I firmly believe we are all here for a reason.
Although my birth parents and half-siblings have all been extremely supportive of my decision to share my story with the world, my adoptive family has been less than thrilled. I have been estranged from my adoptive mother since March 2015 (she cut me out of her life the day I sent her a copy of my manuscript, and has never explained why), and I only have sporadic contact with my adoptive father and brother.
But I have no regrets about my decision to forge ahead with the publishing process. This is my truth. And like author Anne Lamott so eloquently wrote: "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."
It was a hot summer day and we played hide and seek at the playground. When it came time to be “it”, I climbed up and over the wooden playground castle and tagged a neighborhood friend, Lisa.
“You’re it!” I said.
“No, I’m not, ” she said. “You didn’t tag me!” as she inched further into a shadowy corner just out of my reach.
“Yes, you are! I got you!” I yelled and my friends who saw the tag also chimed in.
“You’re it!” “You’re it” they screamed as they all began to point at her.
Her cheeks grew red in embarrassment.
“Well, you’re adopted!” she screamed as she pointed her finger at me.
The neighborhood kids turned their gaze on me as if Lisa had thrown a dagger.
“Yeah, so what?” I replied, unshaken by this familiar insult.
Her mouth lay agape speechless. She had nothing else to say as if she thought her words would hurt me so bad that I’d flee from the scene.
Instead, my confident response diffused her insult, and, as she continued to stare incredulously, another kid chimed in:
“Fine, I’ll be it”.
And the game continued.
You see, to me being adopted has never been an insult. Instead, it’s been my superpower.
I was adopted as an infant. I still somehow remember the soft feel of the white, blue, and pink blanket as my new mother held me in her arms.
About as soon as I started to wear underwear, my mother told me that I was adopted. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I do remember a sense of “Yeah, I knew that” when she told me. It was old news by then, news bred into my DNA reminiscent of a conversation I had with my birth mother in the womb.
As I grew up, I soon learned that the rest of the world did not share my comfortability. They viewed my adoption as a strange phenomenon, like an alien baby discovered in a meteorite that crashed to the earth.
Even to this day, when someone finds out that I’m adopted, they have a litany of questions and stare at me, almost as if they want to poke my skin to see if I’m human.
“You didn’t tell me that,” they’ll say with an excited inquiry. as if telling someone you’re an adopted child should follow your name: “Hi, I’m Mark. I’m adopted.”
“Well, you’re welcome to ask me anything about it if you’d like,” I often add knowing now that people are incredibly curious about adoption and I’m more than happy to give them a sense of understanding.
Their favorite inquiry, of course, is the one made popular by adoption scenes in Hollywood productions: the birth-parent reunion.
“Do you know your birth parents?” they ask.
And when I say “Yes,” (I met my birth-mother in my early 20s) they expect to hear this Oprah story about me meeting them awash in emotion as if all of sudden my life makes sense to me, like I was wondering about the world my whole life looking for my birth parents in search of meaning.
Instead, they’re often disappointed when I respond that yes, it was great to meet my birth mother and she is an amazing woman, but our initial meeting was fewer fireworks, hugs, and tears, and more scientific curiosity to see what characteristics we share via blood (we’re both habitually late, for instance, and have a smile like “The Joker”).
Instead of an episode of Oprah, we stared at each other like that scene in Hook when the little boy rubs adult-Peter pan’s face: “There you are, Peter! It is you!”. Our meeting was fun and laughs wrapped in old child photos for comparison and wonderment.
As I grew older, I learned that many adopted children do not have a story like mine.
I know that looking like my mother made it easier. My Asian friends with white parents, for instance, did not have that luxury. And I know that being adopted at an early age made it easier.
Three months in foster care doesn’t really count.
My sister, who is also adopted from a different set of birth parents, has always struggled with being adopted:
“Why didn’t they want me?” she would say as tears flushed down her cheeks.
And even though she knew logically that her birth-mother could not take care of her properly, the emotional wound of being abandoned at birth -- known as The Primal Wound in the adoption world -- overwhelms her at times and makes it truly difficult for her to trust others.
“I can take care of myself!” is her thinking, a heroic plea most adopted children can relate to, even though we know it’s shrouded in incredible difficulty to securely trust another to help us.
I too certainly struggle to truly trust others to help me. And this is just one of the traits I’ve learned about myself.
My adoption kickstarted an incredible journey of self-inquiry.
I’ve studied ancient religions, philosophy, psychology… you name it and I’ve likely explored it.
I’ve spent my whole life looking at life as this magical opportunity and have stayed curious throughout the years.
I’ve learned to intimately understand my shadows, such as an overwhelming sense to please others in primal fear of being abandoned. And I’ve learned to love myself and calm the primal urge to do more in hopes that “more” will mean I’ve done enough to be loved.
By being adopted, I developed what Carol Dweck calls “The Growth Mindset”. Because I was not tied biologically to my parents, I did not know any limits.
I felt that since I could learn anything, I could be anything.
With this mindset, I’ve gone on to be the first in my family to graduate not only high school, but obtain a master’s degree, as well.
The self-actualization movement made popular by Abraham Maslow in the later 20th century made perfect sense to me.“Of course,” I’d think. “Why would anyone believe they couldn’t grow throughout their life to reach extraordinary heights?” To this day, I continue to thirst for new knowledge, a new experience, or a conversation that helps break apart even the most seemingly agreed-upon fundamentals of human existence.
At an early age, I learned that my birth mother was very young when she had me, so she put me up for adoption so older parents could take care of me. Even as a child, this made perfect sense. As a teenager, I remember sitting in 9th-grade math class knowing that this was the age my birth-mother had me. I looked around at my friends who were still children like me and thought, “Oh my goodness… imagine if one of these girls tried to raise a child!”
At 18, I received a letter. My adoption was a closed adoption, which means that no one had records of the birth parents. But a letter had been put in a safety-deposit box, to be opened when I was 18.
The letter was light blue like a robin’s egg and had big bubbly handwriting. It didn’t say much other than that she loved me and that she was 15 and that she knew this was for the best. Included was a poem (which I later found out to be the lyrics to the opening song of an 80’s soap opera!).
In sophomore year of college, the internet had finally grown to a more user-friendly platform, and so I wrote a quick blurb about my story on an adoption website in case my birth-mother would read it. I was happy to meet her if she wanted to, but wanted more-so to let her know that I was safe and life was good. I also wanted to thank her because she gave me life when she could have chosen to abort me.
A few hours later I walked with my friend Mike to the gym and my cell phone rang.
“Hello,” I answered.
A woman replied that she had read my post and that she thinks she found my birth-mother. My birth-mother had written a similar story on another website and this woman’s job in a non-profit was to help match adopted children up with birth-parents.
I stopped walking.
“Would you like for me to give her a call or would you like for me to call and check to make sure it’s your birth-mother?” she said.
“Um, yes, can you please call her?” I asked.
She called back five minutes later.
“It looks like it's a match,” she said.
“She’d love to speak with you. Can she call you? If so, what time would be good?” she asked.
My birth-mother and I spoke on the phone later that night. Her name is Susan. She was 35 at the time of that call, about the same age as I am now writing this story. We spoke on the phone for about two hours and agreed to meet later that summer. She had moved down to Charlotte from Buffalo, NY and lived there with her husband.
Later that summer, I drove down to meet her. After the initial awkwardness, we had a great meeting. I met her husband, Michael. He’s not my birth-father, but I was so happy to see Susan with such a loving husband.
We’ve been close ever since. Medical issues made it impossible for Susan to birth another child of her own, but fate would have it that our adoption story came full circle. She adopted a daughter, Lindsay, and I’m happy to say that I now have two sisters.
I do know my birth father's name, but don’t plan to reach out to him. It’s not that I wouldn’t meet him. It’s more of an intuitive feeling that it doesn’t really matter. He didn’t carry me for nine months, so I never really developed a relationship with the guy. With Susan, my first nine months were spent with her, so when we met again as adults, it was like meeting up with an old friend twenty years later.
As I grow older and my wife and I start to grow our family, I feel even more blessed to have been adopted. It’s been a gift in my life that’s allowed me to begin a self-development journey that would never have happened without it.
Being adopted helped me step into my superpower.
My hope is that in sharing my story, I can help other adoptees step into their own.
Sharing my story is important because adoptees need to be heard and potential adoptive parents need to be educated.
Without these two things, all the regular horrors of adoption will continue.
I was adopted at four months old.
My adoptive parents raised me as their Caucasian-American daughter in the "safe" suburbs of Minnesota.
Unfortunately, the suburbs are only safe if everyone views you as white.
The relationship with my adoptive parents has been a rocky one.
Sometime between two and three years old, I stopped being close with my adoptive parents. It’s a relationship I’ve been working on and am glad to see evolving.
I never stopped missing my birth mother.
As a toddler, I cried myself to sleep, wanting her to come save me from America and take me back to Korea. Sometimes I still feel this way.
In addition, I grew being sexually abused by my classmates and boyfriends. It is the reason why I’m choosing to speak up.
As mentioned previously, I grew up in a white neighborhood, which made it difficult not to be "the Asian girl."
It was hard to overcome many of the negative experiences I had to endure, just for being in my own skin.
In fact, it is still something I am working on, balancing my race and culture, as well as everything else that makes me wonderful.
As a Romanian adoptee born in 1991, I escaped the chaotic aftermath of the fall of Ceausescu regime. I was born Katerina Charlotte Nicolae in the small town of Pucioasa, about two hours northwest of Bucharest.
My adoption records state that upon identification as an adoptable infant, I was placed in the care of a babysitter. My American parents adopted me through the assistance of an adoption agency that was not yet certified, making my adoption private.
My parents did not travel to Romania to find me or bring me home. In fact, my adoption was finalized in Romania before they even knew they were parents because they had signed papers in advance to adopt a boy or girl under the age of two.
The agency thought my parents were somewhere in Japan for work, but my mom was home because she was pregnant with my brother, Stevie. She had not told the social workers that she was pregnant because she did not want to lose the opportunity to adopt.
To my parent’s surprise, they had just a few days notice that I was on my way home to the States with a social worker from the agency. After years of infertility treatments and adoption attempts, my parents were happy to be blessed with a baby girl and a preemie boy six months later.
My mom humorously states that I was delivered at the main terminal of Washington National Airport. I arrived at five weeks old, bundled up in a blanket wearing a pink sleeper. A section of hair on the back of my head had been snipped and I had thrush in my mouth and a severe diaper rash, which my American parents were able to cure. I also received medication for having a positive Tuberculosis test. My parents are not sure whether I was actually exposed to TB or if I just had a false positive from a TB vaccination routinely given in Romania. Either way, I actually have a faint memory of being force-fed a tiny blue pill during the first year of my life. My mom stayed at home to raise my brother and I. My dad, being a scientist, worked a lot to support our family.
As a baby, Stevie had peachy skin and straight, ash blonde hair while I had an olive complexion with dark, curly hair. We grew up similar to twins being the same age and in the same grade in school. We were usually placed in separate classes when available per my mom’s request. Stevie and I were so different in many ways. School came easy for him but his physical activity was sometimes hindered by asthma. I was a competitive gymnast for 13 years and had tutors all throughout grade school and continuing through college. My parents recognized our strengths and pushed us in those directions. Many of our classmates and teachers didn't know we were related until the conversation of adoption was brought up.
Some classmates tried to tease me when they knew that I was adopted. In third grade, a reading teacher asked my brother and I “who flunked?” in front of the whole class. We were able to laugh it off. I was usually able to fend off the teasing because I loved being different and I loved being from Romania.
My mom was consistently asked questions by almost everyone because two babies six months apart was a curiosity to them. My mom took it as an opportunity to educate people on the best way to talk about adoption. She explained that she is the “real” mom and that she has an adopted daughter and biological son. When I was a toddler, I told people I was “a doctor”, confusing the word “adopted”. My parents explained adoption to me throughout my childhood at the level of my ability to understand. I am glad that they did because I was able to process my thoughts and feelings without feeling betrayed.
My mom encouraged me to learn about my Romanian heritage. For many years my family enjoyed the Christmas parties for adoptees sponsored by the Romanian Embassy in Washington D.C. I have a “Romania” file containing my adoption documents, court records, newspaper articles and a directory of fellow Romanian adoptees with their stories. I greatly appreciate this effort to help me make sense of my own adoption story.
As a pre-teen and teenager, I remember thinking about my biological family a lot of the time. When I was alone or laying in bed at night, especially on my birthday, I wondered if they were thinking of me. And I always wanted a sister. During my teens, I had moments of irrational rage and did not get along well with Stevie or my parents. I told them they're not my real family and that I wanted to live in Romania. Today, I would take those words back because I know what my life in Romania would have been like.
My adoption agency sent their annual pamphlet filled with the successful adoption stories of 2008. Inside was a notification that assistance was available to locate birth parents through the Romanian Embassy in the U.S. I was delighted to respond. The Government of Romania/ Romanian Office for Adoptions mailed me a translated document with my birth mother’s contact information after she had approved. She and I exchanged photographs and handwritten letters in the Romanian language via FedEx. We spoke a few times on our landline phone but it was very difficult to communicate when they didn’t speak a lick of English. I learned that I had two full blood biological siblings. My sister Alexandra is one year younger than I am and lived in Romania with my birth mother. My brother Anthony is two years older than I am and lives in Ireland. I sent him a handwritten letter. He, too, was floored to find two biological siblings he never knew existed.
My family supported me during my search for my biological family. I was 17 years old when we all traveled to Romania to meet my biological family in the Summer of 2008. We met my birth mother and her new husband at the Bucharest airport. Then we rode in a hippie van to my biological family’s apartment in Pucioasa. Alexandra, my biological sister, greeted us at the door and I got emotional upon laying eyes on her as my initial thought was she’s too beautiful to be my sister. I also met two young half-brothers, cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. My biological family welcomed us with hugs and kisses and held our hands constantly. My birth mother cried a lot, showered us with any gifts she could find and to my mom’s shock, knelt down, took off her shoes and kissed her feet. It was an eye-opening experience living with my biological family for the next two weeks.
Upon arriving in Romania, my parents discovered our credit cards were not accepted and we were not able to get much cash from the local ATM. My family had planned to explore different parts of Romania but I chose not to go along with them because of the financial situation and I wanted to bond with my biological family alone. My mom returned a week later.
During my stay, I experienced poverty first-hand. There were no cars parked at the apartment or other residences because nobody owned a car. However, they had to deal with speeding traffic because the town was the main thoroughfare to the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. A few of the locals traveled by horse and buggy. It was quite an experience to see how my biological family lived on a daily basis. I attended a service at their Pentecostal church and walked through the local park almost every day. Every night I could hear the large population of stray dogs howling through the open windows. It was a depressing sight to see dogs scrounging for food in the nearby dumpster and later seeing humans doing the same thing. For work, my birth mother pushed a cart up and down through town selling second-hand clothing. I understood how hard her life in Romania was, not knowing if she’ll make enough money each day to eat.
I consumed my biological family's diet mostly consisting of bread, polenta, potatoes, and mushrooms. A handful of green beans made a huge pot of soup and we boiled the milk from a cow. My biological relatives had a feast to celebrate our reunion. It was uncommon for them to have chicken and they devoured every last bit of it. A marble cake was proudly made by my birth mother and everyone took turns whipping the egg whites by hand.
Communication was a very difficult and draining process but my biological cousin was sometimes available for translation. I relied mostly on my limited knowledge of the Romanian language, an English-Romanian dictionary, and pantomime. My birth mother told me she kept a chunk of my hair when I was relinquished, so I know she cared about me enough to save and cherish a part of me. I asked her about my birth name, Katerina, because some of my documents had my name spelled with a “K” and others with a “C”. Confused, she told me she intended for my name to be “Carolina”. This was very shocking to realize that for seventeen years of my life, the name I thought was truly my birth name was just an act of negligence within the system. I had always loved the name Katerina and it had become a part of me growing up. I also found out that my place of birth in my paperwork was wrong. I thought I was born in Tulcea but during one of our walks into town, my birth mother pointed to the hospital where I was born, right there in Pucioasa. It was during these moments I began to question everything about my adoption because it felt like I had been living a lie.
Some very intense conversations took place when my birth mother revealed her scars from my abusive biological father, who eventually ended up in prison. She told me how she begged on the streets while pregnant with me and she couldn’t go home because my biological father would try to stab me inside of her belly. This also happened with my biological siblings each time she got pregnant. Her dramatic reenactments were traumatizing to witness. My birth mother also told me she’s very sick and is afraid to die; that she wants me to move to Romania to live with her. How could I tell her no? She also needs money for medications and operations at the Bucharest hospital. I believed her until my two half-brothers, ages 6 and 7, suddenly “caught diabetes” during my stay and needed money for treatment. I started to question the validity of her stories. Alexandra, speaking in broken English, warned me that our birth mother lies for money. Her stories hold some truth but she exaggerates her pain and suffering. Despite our birth mother’s dishonesty, I would have felt guilty if something really happened to her, so I sent her a large sum of money. Alexandra later showed me a picture of our birth mother’s new matching furniture. To this day my birth mother still asks for money but I can’t be assured that it will be used wisely.
When Alexandra and I were together we danced, laughed hysterically and held hands through everything. We painted each other’s nails, compared body parts and beauty marks, and she taught me some of the Romanian language. I must have learned over 200 words while staying with my biological family. One of my favorite memories with her was the time I swam in the local river. Alexandra didn’t know how to swim so she watched me do gymnastics and flip off the rocks into the water. I was also able to bond with her boyfriend who is now her husband.
I had so many questions before taking the leap to meet my biological family. I knew I had to keep a completely open mind. My reunion not only answered my deepest questions about my early life, it prompted many more. The more stories my biological family told me, the more questions I had and the more answers I yearned for. Part of me also wondered if they were really telling me the truth and how much of it was lost in translation. Meeting my biological family was just scratching the surface to find my truth that still has not yet been decoded. One of these mysteries was learning of a full blood biological sister who is one year older than I am, Raluca. Her whereabouts remain secret. Alexandra, Anthony and I have been searching for her but we cannot get enough information from our family.
I do not have a relationship with my biological father. A few years ago Alexandra visited him in Belgium in an attempt to get information about our missing sister. During her visit, I was able to Skype with our biological father but he did not want to talk. He sat very far away from the camera drinking a beer and having a smoke. Alexandra translated that he denies we are his children and will not speak of our sister because “it is none of our business”. With all of the secrecy from both of our biological parents, Alexandra is unsure if our sister is even alive. Romania has a terrible history of being one of the world’s leading providers of trafficked organs. Who knows what our biological father would do to his unwanted baby, just to get money. I just hope our sister is alive and was adopted into a loving family.
After coming to the realization of what my life would have been like living in Romania and the dangers that I had faced, I had a newfound love for my adoptive family. The first time Stevie and I truly bonded was on the trip back home from Romania. I was emotional and had just said my goodbyes to my biological family so my brother thought maybe food would cheer me up. He convinced our dad to buy us a jar of Nutella at the airport because it’s “healthy and tastes like peanut butter”. We laughed as we took turns dipping our spoons straight out of the jar. We shared iPod earbuds on the plane and watched Disney movies the whole flight home. My perception of Stevie had changed. I was thankful to end up with such a witty brother. Now that we are all grown up, Stevie and I have become very close. We love to hang out together because we share the same best friends. We love to be active and do extreme sports such as snowboarding, wakeboarding, water skiing, cliff diving, hiking, and biking. We enjoy each other’s gourmet cooking, tasting good craft beer and dancing at the clubs with our friends. I also have a great relationship with my parents now that I’m more mature. I work with my dad sometimes helping him build his business by creating patent drawings, logos and promoting his social media. My mom and I are best friends and can talk on the phone for hours without noticing the time that has flown by. She has always believed in me and my every endeavor.
My records state at the time of my adoption my birth parents had “under their care another child”. That child is my biological brother, Anthony. He was adopted at the age of two by a couple in Ireland. He is two years older than I am. In 2012 Alexandra and I traveled to Dublin to meet Anthony for the first time. The three of us were together for two weeks. It was the most amazingly indescribable feeling in the world to know so little about each other but have such a connection and so much love for each other in spite of our different languages and accents. We held hands together walking through the streets where people passing by told us we looked like a beautiful family. I was able to experience the authentic Irish pubs, tour the Guinness brewery and dance at the Irish nightclubs. Together we road-tripped to Wexford and saw breathtaking views of the east coast and countryside.
Anthony’s adoptive parents were so welcoming during my stay. We felt very comfortable discussing our adoption stories. Some very significant information was revealed about my adoption that had been kept secret by my biological family. Anthony’s adoptive parents saw me as a newborn baby during his adoption process. His parents were planning to adopt both of us the next day when they went back for me but I was already on a plane to my parents in the United States. In addition to this knowledge, I found out that I was adopted in exchange for a bag of cash. Anthony’s adoptive parents snapped a photo of this wad of cash that my biological parents were holding that replaced me. My parents were left aghast when I told them they had bought me. They were lied to by the lawyers in Romania who claimed that money was owed to “babysitters” along with extra legal fees that had to be paid. My parents also did not know that my biological parents separated me from my biological brother. Today, I would be living in Ireland with Anthony and his adoptive family, had my American parents not adopted me only one day before.
I have always been pro-adoption and pro keeping siblings together, but when I reflect on my life living separated from my biological brother, I have conflicting views. On one hand, I am so thankful to have such an amazing family who gave me unconditional love and so many opportunities in education and sports. I know how lucky I am to have had such a wonderful childhood growing up in the diverse city of Miami. I now know the impact of what one day can have on so many people’s lives and I can’t bear to think of how life would be to never have known my loving adoptive family. At the same time, I feel great sorrow from never been able to experience growing up with my biological brother. I know that if I did, Anthony’s adoptive parents would have cared for me and loved me just as much. It comforts me to know I would have had an amazing life with them in Ireland as well. Overall, I am overjoyed to have found my siblings and to have them in my life today. I would not change a thing in my past because I now have the best of all worlds. In this life, I found our sister Alexandra. I keep in touch with my biological siblings mainly through Facebook, video chats, and with the help of Google Translate. Over the past decade, Alexandra has learned enough English to almost speak it fluently.
As an adoptee there have been, and will be many struggles I have to overcome--one being I drank too much in college. Reflecting back, I see how it was an outlet to avoid thinking about my situation. I am a stronger person than I used to be because I have matured and I channel my energy and emotions through my art. My perception of fate plays a huge role in my life and in my art. When I am creating, I tend to dwell on my past and can recall many conversations and flashbacks of the times when I was with my biological family. I think my emotions get in the way of my creative process because my work is so intrinsically personal. As an artist, I want to work with members of the adoption community to disclose their empowering stories and give them a voice through my work. While every adoptee’s story and experience is like no other, their voices are strong and their perspectives are real. As a whole, we have a stronger voice and I want to establish an environment where all voices can be heard and where the conversation is embraced. Understanding the stories between adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents is one of my many interests. I want to encourage adult adoptees to search for their roots but to let them know it is your reaction and attitude that forms who you are, not the stories of your past. I also want people within the adoption community to know that every adoption story, positive or negative, has traumatic qualities. No adoptee is alone. Sharing multiple viewpoints and offering insight to prospective adoptive parents I believe is crucial for the development of future adoptees.
The adoptive family is in a position to support and respect the adoption-related needs of their child. I believe adoptive parents need to put forth the effort in finding out as much information about their adoptive child’s biological family as possible. Explaining adoption starting very young is the easiest way for a child to swallow the concept of adoption. Waiting to tell a child about his or her adoption is, in my belief, one of the greatest forms of dishonesty and betrayal. In order to have a genuine connection with your adoptive child, parents need to be open and honest in discussing anything and everything adoption related. In today’s society, I promote the conversations surrounding adoption to normalize the idea of adoption. This will build awareness, which in turn can create a safer environment for future generations of adoptees.
I moved out of my parent’s house in 2014 upon getting my first job in the summer of my college graduation. Today, I live in the mountains of Colorado. I love to live my life in a natural setting where I can go outdoors to paint, draw, hike, cycle, rock climb, snowboard and water ski. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from New World School of the Arts and the University of Florida. My husband makes custom drum sets from scratch and I love to collaborate with him on special woodworking projects. We are focused on perfecting our crafts while building our businesses.
This year one of my goals is to showcase my artwork in at least one of the local Denver galleries. I am looking forward to traveling this year--one perk of having family overseas. But being so far apart geographically is also one of the most unremitting and difficult aspects of my adoption. It has been ten years since I’ve seen most of my biological family and I will finally reunite with them again this year. Alexandra and her husband are having their first baby and we will be celebrating his baptism with a reunion. I will get to meet my four-year-old niece and one-month-old nephew. I can’t wait to be with Alexandra and Anthony, their significant others, Anthony’s mother, best friend, our birth mother and our two half-brothers.
In the next ten years, I want to reunite with my biological family more often so my niece and nephew can grow up knowing that they have an aunt in the U.S. who loves them. I want to focus on my art practice and my processes to make my art career more successful. I am hoping that within the next ten years, society will have a greater understanding of the adoption community. In today’s world, there are many nontraditional ways to create a family. My definition of family is broader than blood. My family is created with love, courage, and choice.
Adoption made me strong. I’ve been given up on, I’ve been walked away from, I’ve been rejected, abandoned, and mistreated; my interactions with these are deeply intertwined into my experience with adoption.